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Sunday, October 06, 2002

Arkansas Outdoor Recreational Options:
by Frank Laraway,
Mobile Bay Canoe & Kayak Club

For those of us who may not find it convenient to spend several days on the Buffalo River that would require more complex arrangements and camping accoutrements, there are day-long opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, rafting, and hiking close to the main highway in the National Park area which straddles this river. While there are many such sites to choose from even along this river, this one was chosen merely because it was located conveniently on the main highway (U. S. Highway 65) north from Little Rock.

The twelve hour trip from Fairhope, Alabama, should follow I-65 bypass west of Mobile, then Highways 98 and 49 to Jackson, then I-20 west across the Mississippi at Vicksburg to pick up 65 north. This is not an expressway route but it does border on the Mississippi
River and other interesting sites. Be prepared for a few stop lights and road-repair bottlenecks on this route.

The park and numerous boat rental establishments are either on or near the highway that crosses the Buffalo River park area. Canoe rentals are $32, shuttle for six mile trips $16, rafts $18/person. Some outfitters offer rest rooms, tubing and other facilities. For those of us that like to bring our own boats, perhaps only the shuttle price is relevant yet there are many other options of trip length than the one given with different charges for various length shuttles.

The National Park, which straddles the river and highway, is accessed directly from Highway 65 immediately before crossing the river headed north. It offers excellent facilities that includes a nature center/administration/reception building, hiking trails along the river, historic houses and educational options. The campground for RV and primitive camping is located directly along the Buffalo River and offers modern rest rooms and shower facilities. Reservations are not necessarily required and there are ways to pay the camping fee after hours at the site. For a space that includes use of the showers, the fee is $6/night, for seniors with cards $3. This would offer excellent opportunities for a group camp out combined with paddling the river.

The river itself is very scenic here with clear water, rocky bottoms, cliff escarpments on one or both sides of the river; a leisurely current downstream in low water; and an abundance of different plants and trees from what we have along the Gulf Coast. At low water, it is a bit shallow, perhaps requiring dragging ones boat across the rocky bars at intermittent locations. Here at the park, the depth seems to be adequate.

But it is low water when I arrive and the boat rental managers do not recommend paddling at this particular time. However, it could be done now with minor inconvenience. Good water levels are achieved here in late spring and thus the season for water activities are scheduled for after May.

Thus I elect to hike the trails instead, which brings me along the high cliffs bordering the river. The trails are well cleared but marked only at their beginning points. By the time I have hiked most of them, it is nearly dark so I shower in the bath house and camp in the park. At the time, I did not realize it but my hike here brings on a multitude of chiggers as riders that will be only noticed several days later.

Since this trip is not dedicated totally to camping and recreation, it is merely an overnight stop that I would be required to take anyway to give me some relief from driving. The next day, I rise very early to get back on the highway headed north so I can arrive at my destination in St. Paul, MN at five that same evening. The two day trip to St. Paul is a 1300 mile drive.


Tofte Area of National Forest Campground
by Frank Laraway,
Mobile Bay Canoe & Kayak Club

For those of us who might travel more than a mile for a paddle, the Boundary Waters Lakes are the ultimate for boating, camping, and fishing. Generally, I myself would not travel the 1600 miles to do this either but when I combine a number of other projects in the same trip, it makes it more feasible to do so. I had been hearing a lot of positive things about the Boundary Waters Lakes over the years so when my new friend (who has a home in Fairhope as well as St. Paul) offered me the opportunity to visit Minnesota at his home in St. Paul that would coincide with a number of other objectives and places, I made the trip. Both he and his wife teach in the schools of St. Paul but they come to Fairhope when they are not teaching.

Our second objective in St. Paul was to do biographical research on General C. C. Andrews, a gentleman who made a sojourn through Baldwin County in April of 1865 and wrote a book on the Civil War in Baldwin County titled, The Campaign for Mobile, 1865. This research, we would do in Minnesota's large facility for history and archival materials. We would also visit Andrew's gravesite and attend two historical meetings on the Civil War.

On Wednesday, September 18 we packed all our camping and fishing equipment in the car, with the canoe on the roof, and drove the 250 miles to the site where we were to camp. We arrived in late afternoon, joining two others already there who had reserved our campsite in the national park. We would be camping along the Sawbill Lake which was at south edge of the boundary waters. In this park there are primitive camp sites with minimal facilities. Down by the lake was a place for boat-launching and a park for canoes over night. Motorized boats were not allowed at all on this lake.

The next day, we launched our two canoes and paddled north five miles to the north end of Sawbill Lake and across the Boundary Waters line. Once across this line activities are very restricted to protect the environment and afford maximum refuge from civilization. The region is pockmarked with literally thousands of lakes cut into the rocky terrain by the massive glacier that died in this area about 10,000 years ago.

Almost each and every one of these lakes have one or more designated campsites on them. At each of the sites is a contained fire pit and cooking grate, at least one clear tent site and an open recessed fiber Fiberglas thrown as a latrine. There are strict rules for fires and wood fuel, trash and waste disposal, noise, protection of growing things and size of parties. Campers must protect their food from bears. This policy is known as "Leave No Trace." There are numerous portage paths between lakes, designated by length in rods.

The lakes for the most part are large, open and at times, windy. It sometimes takes a hard paddle by two to get across the open water or to return to camp. The edges of the lake are rocky and at numerous places, large boulders have been dropped by the glacier. The glacial action has created many small islands by the same process. The weather is unpredictable. We have left our campsites well covered from the short rain storms that pass over and then lets the sun come out.

When we reach the farthest of the side pockets of Lake Sawbill, both canoes begin serious fishing by trolling artificial lures as we paddle over known hot spots of fish. We catch musky, bass and pike. Our gross catch is enough fish for supper plus enough for sandwiches for the following day. We will clean them first, on large boulders at the edge of the lake, leaving the fish cleanings on the rocks for the gulls and otter.

The dominant trees along the edge of the lake and back into the forest are white cedar, maple, pine, spruce and birch. The surrounding forest has been logged some time ago so the new growth seems to be like a virgin forest.

Almost every spot on the lake has a pair of loons who dive and call constantly. The mail Luanne, like the wood duck is very colorful and attractive. Lacking vultures, the area has a lot of crows that eat the carrion. Kingfishers and jays can be heard and seen at times also. There are many signs of beaver in all the lakes. In ancient times, beaver pelts were the main commodity of trade from here to Europe. Many of the names here are of French origin.

We camp and paddle here for three nights, returning to our base camp at the southern end of the lake each evening. One day, we take the trouble to portage to several other lakes in succession. My friend has brought a boat portage yoke to carry the canoe between lakes more easily. The portage paths here are generally smooth, wide and easy. Some of other portages require carrying boats and supplies across extensive distances, over rocky muddy trails and over hills. One could easily get lost by portaging a number lakes unless he keeps counts of the lakes past, follows the maps and/or utilizes geodesic instruments to avoid this possibility.

By the end of our stay the following Sunday, we have done a lot of paddling with our canoes. We take the same route back to St. Paul through the city of Duluth on Lake Superior, making many stops at parks and waterfalls along that lake highway.

I come away from the boundary waters with much admiration for the way that the state of Minnesota has preserved and invested in so many public facilities, especially the wilderness areas and lakes. There are infinite opportunities for boating and camping in this state plus a large number of rest stops and parks along the highways. The investment by the public is returned many-fold by the large tourist and vacation industry income that is generated.

My friend and I return to his home and St. Paul for several more days of historical research in the archives, tours of historic and public sites of note about the city and to attend a historical meeting.

A week later after arriving in St. Paul, I head down into Wisconsin to attend a four day reunion of former apprentices to Frank Lloyd Wright being held at Taliesin near Spring Green. Originally, I had planned to paddle the Wisconsin River here as I had a year ago but a crowded schedule does not permit.

At the end of this affair on Sunday, I pass through Madison where I attend a reception at a house designed almost one hundred years ago by Wright. Then I drive straight through to Alabama with occasional naps along the way, arriving at Fish River twenty-five hours later. An additional tropical storm has passed during my absence and another approaches Louisiana as I arrive. But it was a good paddle. I would do the lakes of Minnesota again. One could never run out of new places to paddle there.